Hedrick Jones accepted Jesus as Savior at age 7, heard the Holy Spirit call him to preach at 12, and at 14 began Bible school to equip him for his calling.
Founded in 1968, the Assemblies of God school then known as Eastern Indian Bible Institute prepared primarily members of the Lumbee Tribe like Jones for ministry and gave the adolescent Christian special permission to enroll.
But in the mid-1980s, leaders at the church Jones attended, a Lumbee AG congregation called God’s Holy Assembly in Shannon, North Carolina, deeply believed a divine calling to be sufficient enough to preach and rejected schools that taught the Bible.
“Back in the day, it was a sin to go to Bible college,” says Jones, 49. “They believed if God called you, you didn’t need the help of man.”
So Jones surreptitiously attended a class on the Gospels two nights a week. A couple of months later when his secret got out, church officials rebuked him, but that didn’t deter him from continuing his studies. In time, he received a three-year Bible degree from the school later known as Native American Bible College, and now called Lumbee River Christian College.
Today he is bivocational pastor of that church, which had an average weekly pre-COVID attendance of 140, while also serving as co-director/owner of four funeral homes. Since 2011, he’s served on his alma mater’s board of directors.
Attitudes have changed over the decades. Jones notes that today most Lumbee AG pastors in south-central North Carolina have attended the school.
James A. Keys, 71, the school’s president and an AG U.S. missionary serving with Intercultural Ministries, says while numbers vary, in a typical year around 30 percent of students are non-Lumbee. They come from other denominations, ethnicities, and cultures.
“God has continued to bless and bring resources that come out of nowhere,” Keys says. “With all the activity and changes, there’s a sense of excitement about what God is doing with the school. He’s making all the provision in response to prayer.”
A 2020 fundraising campaign is a case in point. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, the school raised six times the target amount.
Contributions will go toward much-needed improvements, such as glass doors to replace decades-old wooden ones, substituting 1960s paneling with plasterboard, and erecting a new roof on the school’s chapel.
The pandemic, however, took a toll on attendance. Typical fall enrollment is around 35. So far, 19 are pre-enrolled for the semester in September. Keys is hopeful that the numbers will rise to at least the pre-COVID normal. Bringing more students has become a central prayer focus.
One side benefit from the pandemic involved the accrediting body and the Department of Education waiving requirements for schools to offer online classes. LRCC may offer up to 49 percent of credits for a degree online, which makes classes accessible to more students.
Hedrick Jones remains grateful to the school for preparing him to minister.
“We don’t go to school to learn to preach; we go to school to learn to study God’s Word for all it’s worth,” Jones says. “The value of learning to study, learning how to dissect the Word of God, is priceless.”